Examining Epictetus #2:  To Be, We Must Do

First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.

Epictetus

As a youth, I had some lofty goals. They were always in the same formula:

A + B = C

A = Someday

B = Unknown

C = Goal

Coming up with C was easy. My problem was I never knew how to identify A and B.

A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.

Thomas Carlyle

I had both a ship and a rudder. Unfortunately, I was lacking a schedule and a map. The result was years of entering the wrong harbors and not maximizing the trade value of the goods in the hold.

10-3-1 Finding A

My first step is to clearly identify the A in my formula. Someday is too vague. It doesn’t require a sense of urgency and allows external interference. A is my schedule.

10

Where do I want to be in ten years. Ten years is my moonshot. It can be as lofty as I want it to be. Ten years provides me a finish line for the current race that I am entering. This is a marathon. I don’t have to break any speed records. Instead, I just need to run my race. Personally, I have four different ten-year goals. Two of them are where I want to be professionally. The other two are where I want to be personally.

3

As in three years. My first major milestone is three years away. To achieve my ten-year goal, I must define my ideal schedule of progress after three years. Rather than a moonshot, this is just getting off the planet. My three-year goal is doable and aligns with the ten-year plan I have in place.

1

You guessed it! This is the one-year plan. It is the mini milestone that gets me closer to the major milestone. The one-year plan is very doable. It breaks the three-year plan down into smaller chunks. In the recesses of my mind is the moon. Not so far back is the three-year goal of getting off the planet. In the first year, I am looking at the prototypes of the rocket ship, the logistics of the journey, and the beginning of any required training.

The one-year goal is getting the business up and running. Turning profits is the year three and Fortune 500 is year ten.

In my A + B = C formula, this is how I identify A.

Breaking down the B.

B is the how-to that for me was always an unknown variable. It is more difficult than defining A, but it needs the schedule that A provides. B is the action, and I must know what B looks like at 10, 3, and 1 years.

The action at ten years is complex.  Even the three-year mark is at a higher level than the first year. One being the easiest and closest to my present moment, I will start here. What actions are required to hit my first mini milestone?

In the first year, I am a novice. To build up to my ultimate ten-year dream, I must lay the foundation. There are two key elements crucial to my foundation: discipline and knowledge.

Discipline

Discipline comes through the creation of daily habits. These  habits will drive my productivity. Starting out small is a good idea. Reevaluating a habit’s effectiveness over time is prudent to see if it produces the desired results. This is also a good time to look at any current habits that may be counter-productive to the 10-3-1 plan.

All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Knowledge

As a novice, we must gather knowledge. This is the first part of wisdom. The second, understanding, will come in time. The accumulation of knowledge is critical to the foundation. If we do not have it, our final structure, the goal we desire, will be shaky. How do we get this knowledge? Living or deceased, we start with mentors. Somebody has been down this road or a similar one before. We can save an immense amount of time by studying their words and works. Their knowledge will become ours and help to ensure secure foundation.

Keep in mind, not all knowledge is needed here. We must curate what we take in and guard against consuming material that is not beneficial to our cause. If it does not get us closer to our goal, we may find ourselves going down the wrong path, which of course will cost us valuable time.


To be, we must do. Easy words from Epictetus, but not so easy in the execution. By breaking down what we desire to be, we can have a plan for the doing. We can take our dreams and make them a reality.

Examining Epictetus #33: Trials, Character Development, and the Way

Trials

It doesn’t matter what it is. When I see my son struggle in any endeavor, I feel bad for him. I wish he didn’t have to go through the ordeal. I wish it was easier for him.

Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.

Jim Rohn

This wish for him is a very tiny wish, and it only lasts for a few seconds. Reality quickly sets in, and my moment of weakness is gone. As a father, it is not my job to remove his obstacles. Instead, it is my job to make sure he goes through them and to help him navigate them to the best of his abilities. I hate it when he loses, but the losing is necessary. Better to lose now and learn from the experience than to learn it hard way later in life. It is preferable to lose a game or fail a test now than to do so when the stakes are higher. Learning the lessons from his trials puts him on a path to winning (consistently) in the future.

The trials we go through expose our weaknesses. They show us where we need to improve. They create the path to strengths we never knew possible.

Character Development

One of the greatest joys in life is accomplishing a difficult goal. Thoreau said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals .” Our destination is important. Even more important is who we become along the way. This journey is critical to the development of our character.

This is the ultimate game. It is one that is dear to our hearts. Cheating or cutting corners in our personal endeavors diminishes our returns. Short-sighted and shallow goals will do us no good. We cannot play small in a game void of consequences. Doing so provides no benefits.

We must be willing to play big if we want the lucrative rewards that comes from both the process and accomplishment.

The Way

How do we go big and win? We put it all on the line. Look at the winners around us. Championship teams don’t hoist the trophy by luck. Gold medalists  don’t get to the podium by happenstance. They make their goals, and then they fully immerse themselves in the quest. They make it their top priority.

This is the way. We must make it the most important thing in our lives. We can either make our journey into a reality, or we can keep it as a wish.

Give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths.

Epictetus

Give 100%. Develop your character like it is your birth right. Find your strengths.

Contemplating Seneca #25 On Written Goals

Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When you don’t know what harbor you’re aiming for, no wind is the right wind.

Seneca

Whether it is at the beginning of the year, at the end, or somewhere in between, the act of creating goals is one of the great separators between the high-performers and the rest of the field. It doesn’t matter your age or station in life. If you want to get ahead, it starts with goals. Obviously, that is not enough. It is only a starting point. Keep in mind these words from Sir Francis Drake: There must be a beginning to any great matter – But the continuing unto to the end, until it be thoroughly finished, yields the true glory.

So, you have yourself a goal to get better at something that is holding you back. Accomplishing this goal will understandably change your life. What should be the first step?

The act of writing down your goals has stunning benefits. Check out these words from Keith Ferrazzi in his book Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time:

As my dad used to say, no one becomes an astronaut by accident. Luck has little to do with achievement, as a study cited in Success magazine makes clear. In the study, researchers asked Yale’s class of 1953 a number of questions. Three had to do with goals:

-Have you set goals?

-Have you written them down?

-Do you have a plan to accomplish them?

It turned out that only 3 percent of the Yale class had written down their goals, with a plan of action to achieve them. Thirteen percent had goals but had not written them down. Fully 84 percent had no specific goals at all, other than to “enjoy themselves.” In 1973, when the same class was resurveyed, the differences between the goal setters and everyone else were stunning. The 13 percent who had goals that were not in writing were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent of students who had no goals at all. But most surprising of all, the 3 percent who had written their goals down were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent of graduates combined!

Writing down your goals could put you in the top 3%. That is an elite level. Being in the top 3% in any sport would almost guarantee an induction into a Hall of Fame. In any business sector, a top 3 percenter goes together with being a top earner. Imagine being at the top of the list of authors, entrepreneurs, or leaders. How about being a top 3% father or mother? Natural talent will only get a person so far. The rest is a combination of smart work and hard work. if we want our plans to bear fruit, we must have an aiming point.

Time to get smart,

Or rather it is time to develop some S.M.A.R.T. goals.

SMART Goals: Definitions and Examples

On a piece of paper, write down what you want your goal to be. Then define it using the S.M.A.R.T. method. When you are done, hang it up or put it somewhere that will serve as a daily reminder. Congratulations! You now have a higher probability of achieving your goal. Your chances of success have just increased exponentially.

To do more for the world than the world does for you—that is success.

Henry Ford

Personal goals are fantastic for getting you from point A to point B. However, personal goals only serve the individual making the goal. Altruistic goals on the other hand, benefit not only the goal creator but others. If we are truly interested in finding success, we must consider goals that do more for others than ourselves.

Goals and What You Become

The sun is going down, but it doesn’t prevent Alec from kicking the ball. Every weekday, it is the same scenario. School in the in morning, followed by soccer immediately after his homework is done. On the weekends, it is soccer all day with the occasional break for food. Sometimes, he will even bring his iPad outside, watch tutorials, and then go practice what he just watched. Even after his soccer games, he will come home and continue practicing.

When asked what his goals were, Alec responded by saying he wanted to be a better dribbler, passer, shooter, and teammate. Essentially, he wants to be a complete player able to contribute to the success of his team. Well, if that is the case there is only one solution.

Octavius Augustus said, “Practice is the master of all things.” I can’t count how many times I have said this to him in his nine years of life. And yet, I am still amazed by his dedication. He has found something he loves that he wants to get better at. Therefore, he practices at every opportunity he gets. If this is the monster I have created, then I am one proud monster papa.

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Henry David Thoreau

No doubt, Alec would love to be a great soccer player. I hope he does as it would be the fruit of his labor. But just because he works hard at something, it doesn’t mean he will always get the rewards he hopes for. Such is the nature of life! The rewards are nice, yet there is something greater. What does he become by going through the process?

There is nothing like the feeling of achieving a goal, especially if it is challenging. We always seem to have goals. However as soon as we achieve them, we often move directly on to the next goal, sometimes without even a pause. But every time we cross that milestone, we begin the journey as someone with more knowledge and wisdom, one that is battle-tested and experienced. We become something greater through the process of striving toward hard things.

Alec is developing skills beyond the soccer field. He is learning what it means to be both a leader and a follower. As the players move upon the field like pieces on a chess board, he is learning tactics and on-the-spot adjustments. He is developing quicker reaction times and improving his decision-making skills. He is developing his mind, heart, and body. He is becoming something new that he will be able to take with him into any new endeavor he chooses to pursue.


Feature photo by Ronnie Overgoor on Unsplash

Tragedies and Goals

It was another weekend where not enough got accomplished. As per usual, one of two things happened. I either over planned more than I could get gone or I under planned. In this case, I failed to plan.

 I usually make my weekend plans on Thursday or Friday. But this week, I got busy. And I got distracted. The result? When the weekend came around, not enough got done. I took too much free time and worked on tasks of lesser importance. I failed to make clear goals which in turn got me no closer to my high, hard goals.

The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.

Benjamin Mays

Yes, it was just one weekend. There will hopefully be more in the future. And though I look at it as a tragedy, it doesn’t even compare to what Dr. Mays stated as the real tragedy: having no goals to reach.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have goals. I probably have more goals than I wish to admit. But what is a goal if it is not planned and executed? A pure fantasy. The bad thing about fantasies is they don’t get us closer to our intended destination. Instead, they consume valuable time. And time, as William Penn once said, is what we want most, but what we use worst.

I know I need to do better. My hope is to reach my goals. If I don’t improve my planning, I run the risk of not seeing them come to fruition.


Feature photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Your Own Personal Treasure Island

There are a few quotes that have always resonated with me. Thoreau had a good one about us only hitting at what we aim at. Therefore, he said, we should aim at something high even though we might fail immediately. Mix his words with Les Brown’s quote about shooting for the moon. If we do not make it to the moon, he said, at least we might land among the stars. I spend a good amount of time considering my aim in life. I also spend an equal amount of time considering the consequences of missing that mark.

Can you really lose if your aim is in the right direction? I don’t think so, and well, it reminds me of something Bruce Lee said: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”  These are some very encouraging words from Thoreau, Brown, and Lee. And though I do take a small amount of comfort in remembering them, missing the mark is still missing the mark.

There are a few things in this life that I feel called to do. Failure to do them, I believe, would haunt me into my next existence. And these are things that I do not do for the gold or the glory. Yet by achieving them, I believe I would find more wealth than on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

An aim in life is the only fortune worth finding.

Robert Louis Stevenson

I remember my land navigation classes from the Army. You plot out your destination on the map and figure out how you are going to get there. You pull out your compass and find the direction you need to go. Sometimes obstacles get in the way, and you find yourself deviating off the path. Once you realize this, you adjust your aim and correct your course. The journey might seem never-ending. At times, it might seem impossible, but we have no choice to keep going. Keep aiming and adjusting because the rewards are too great. In fact, it is the only fortune worth finding.

Ready, Aim, Fire, and Then Repeat

Who doesn’t want to reach their goals? I know I do. And when it comes to goals, it seems like I have one for almost every area of my life. You name it, I probably have a goal for it: personal, professional, fitness, writing, financial, and spiritual. Yep, this list could go on. And though I want to conquer all of them, sometimes it is just not achievable. If I was a perfectionist, this would drive me crazy. Thank God I am not and no longer pretend to be. Instead of perfection, I am more interested in progression. Like the Taoist proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”

One of my main fitness goals these days has to do with rowing. I want to see how fast I can go and how high I can move up in the rankings for my age and weight. To reach my targets, I am rowing nearly every day. My mind is almost completely consumed with this and many of my decisions in other areas of my life depend on whether or not it will make me a better rower. Will I eat this or drink that? I don’t’ know, will it slow me down. Should I go to bed or can I stay up a little longer? Hmm, will I feel rested enough and be able to get up before 4 in the morning?

How likely is it that I can reach all my rowing goals? Probably not very, but I do know it won’t be from a lack of trying. And what happens if I don’t? My ego might take a blow, but everything else (fitness, discipline, nutrition, etc.) will be at a higher level. To progress in those areas without reaching my goal would still be worth it.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at. -Bruce Lee

I would invite you today to prepare your mind and ready your soul by choosing a difficult goal. Set your aim on it and make it all consuming. And then fire. Fire toward that goal with all you got. Fire with discipline, courage, and an unrelenting resolve. Keep firing. Keep hammering with all the physical and mental force you can muster. There are no cheat codes or short-cuts here, well except for maybe one.

Get after it and farewell.

Dream Time

Begin with the end in mind.

I have heard the above quote before, but I was reminded of it this week while listening to The Art of Manliness Podcast #607  with Stephen M.R. Covey covering his father’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What is the ultimate end? Death. For a moment, consider what might be said at your funeral. How will you be remembered by your spouse, children, co-workers, and community? What would you like them to say about you? That is your end. And if your goal is to get them to say what you would like them to say, then it would be best if you begin planning and working on it now.

In the same fashion, you could imagine where you want to be in 5, 10, or even 20 years. Once the seed is planted in the imagination, we must begin the cultivation process and allow that seed to grow into reality. Start at the end, draw out the blueprints, lay the foundation, and then complete the project.

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. -T.E. Lawrence

As long as we have breath in our bodies, we can set a new goal. We can have the waking dreams that make us dangerous in the good way. In the book Super Brain by Rudolph E. Tanzi and Deepak Chopra, we learn that cells are dynamic. As long as they keep moving, they live. But once they stop, they die. Even into our later years, we can continue moving. It is only when we become stagnant that we lose the dynamic ability to achieve new growth. The key is to keep growing, to keep improving.

For some of us, we suddenly have more time on our hands than ever before. What will you do with this time? If you have nothing to keep you occupied, it might be a good time to start dreaming. Set a new goal. Dream a new dream. Become the person you want to be known as when you come to your journey’s end.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. –C.S. Lewis

The Challenge of Big Goals

Sometimes I will watch my son Alec play a game. The game is way too easy, and he wins every time. I will ask him why he plays it. He simply responds that it is something he enjoys.

If a game is too challenging, he will get frustrated and stop playing. If it is too hard, it isn’t very fun for this seven year old. Ideally the goal of any game is to win and to have fun. Alec is not going to willingly challenge his mental capacities for the sake of challenging his mental capacities. At his age, that is not enough of an incentive to play the game.

As we get older, our motivations become more complex. Of course, we like to have fun, and we want to win. But we also have to add in elements of “it needs to be done” or “it will make us better.” We lose the simplicity of our childhood for the higher purpose of necessity. We force ourselves to do what we think is in our best interests. It is why we set resolutions at the beginning of the year in hopes of some monumental change. There is an inner desire to become better, to put it on paper, and commit to it. By the way, how are those resolutions going?

The commission from the church came in. They approached the candidates and asked for their proposals. They wanted something spectacular, something worthy to adorn the temple of God. They wanted a masterpiece to grace the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Imagine if Michelangelo gave them a simple proposal. Picture him saying, “Well, I can maybe paint a cross on a blue background with a couple of clouds floating in the distance.” Could you imagine the response from the ceiling committee? They would have passed on him and went to the next artist. They didn’t want basic. They wanted something that would inspire wonder in the hearts of their parishioners. Michelangelo took the job and painted the ceiling in about four years. His work would last for centuries and be replicated in hundreds of different ways so that the masses could place a reminder of it in their homes.

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our goal is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. –Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s work on that ceiling was an enormous project. His goals in the beginning were no small thing. He challenged himself, and he completed it. When it comes to goal setting, his example would be the gold standard of shooting for the moon. And what would have happened if he never finished it? What if he died in the last year of the project? I don’t think he would have been overly disappointed. Yes, of course he would have wanted to finish it, but it would not have been for a lack of effort on his part.

The opposite of the gold standard for goal setting would be to make set them too low. It would be like playing a game that is way too easy. Those type of goals do not make us better people. They don’t push us to see what we are capable of accomplishing. Today, I am going to take a moment and look at the goals I am setting for myself. Are they going to challenge me or are they going to give me a false sense of accomplishment? Am I working to become better or am I choosing to remain stagnant?

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. -Les Brown

Target Acquisition

You could have asked me as a kid what I wanted to do when I grow up, and I would have told you something different every day. I didn’t really care what I wanted to be. There were so many good options out there, and they were all appealing. I ended up doing none of the things I thought I once wanted to do. On the other hand, I have friends who knew what they wanted to be at an early age and are doing it today.

It wasn’t until I got older that I had the big “I want to be this” moment. That was twenty years ago, and I’m still working toward it. Will I achieve my dreams? Of course I can, but only if I keep working toward it.

To be able to visualize the end point and move in that direction is really what this life should be about. Can you imagine not being able to answer St. Peter when he asks you why you should be able to go through the gate? As far as we know, we only get one chance on this earth. Would you risk squandering it on no definite purpose in life? Would you not make every day count towards achieving your great purpose?

Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of achievement. –W. Clement Stone

Let us back up a moment and get away from the grand design of your life. Maybe you haven’t found it yet, or what you have found is still a question mark. If you don’t know what the grand is, then maybe you have to go with the minute. Regardless of the scale of the goal, you need to have that definitive aim. You need to know what you are aiming at before you release the arrow. Otherwise, you might hit everything but your target.

To achieve your goals, consider DMAIC. This is a part of Six Sigma used to improve business processes. Take you goal, whether it to lose weight or build your dream cake business, and create a systematic approach to achieving it.

  • Define – What’s your goal? To lose ten pounds.
  • Measure – How will you measure it? Calories in vs. Calories out. Weight scale.
  • Analyze – Take a good look at your performance? Use a tracker, journal, or both. What’s the quality of the calories coming in? What’s the quality of the calories being burned (exercise)?
  • Improve – What corrections can be made? Review your analysis and find sustainable solutions, i.e. reduce sugar, stop eating late at night, work out earlier in the morning.
  • Control – Ensure improvements are implemented and maintained. Keep track of these too and put in some control systems (alarms, family members and friends).

Success achieving small goals will lead to greater confidence in attacking bigger goals. But your chances of hitting your goals will be slim, if you do not know what you are aiming at.